Singapore

Asia still believes in openness, working together: DPM Heng

Heng Swee Keat says region a bright spot despite global tensions, stresses how Asia is strengthening collaboration

Trade tensions and shifting alliances may roil the world but Asia remains a bright spot, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Drawing on the past, he noted the vast region has gone through major changes, from the Vietnam War to the rise of China.

Still, it has kept the faith in openness and cooperation, continuing "to believe in free trade, globalisation and working closely together", said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, at a dialogue at the Milken Institute Asia Summit.

To underline the point, he cited the ongoing talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a regional trade pact being negotiated among 16 countries: the 10 Asean members, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The RCEP is a major development, reflective of how Asia is doing more to deepen economic links and collaboration, he noted.

Mr Heng, however, cautioned that it has to be managed in a way that does not shut others out others.

"This is not Fortress Asia. It is a way of catalysing the multilateral system," he said at the dialogue, moderated by Milken Institute chairman Michael Milken, a financier and philanthropist, and attended by about 1,500 business and government leaders.

Mr Heng stressed that the global trading system is not a zero-sum game, pointing out that negotiating parties need to discuss how to accommodate one another in their growth.

The key is working with like-minded countries to keep the momentum going for free trade and globalisation, he said.

Mr Heng did not think it was equitable to expect those at the top of the value chain to always stay at the top, and those at the bottom to always stay at the bottom.

FASTER

"Those at the top will need to run a little faster, and those at bottom will catch up," he said.

Touching on the theme of the two-day conference, Asia At A Crossroads, Mr Heng said a new global division of labour is necessary, such that it will maintain peace and stability and let governments improve the lives of their people.

Singapore is also investing heavily in research and development (R&D), in anticipation of a future that will be shaped by science, technology and innovation.

"We have R&D in the basic sciences in our universities and institutes... but that has evolved into areas such as the growth of med tech and the food industry, including alternative ways of producing food."

The other part of the equation is translating research into enterprise, he said, noting that companies are partnering universities to set up corporate laboratories.

An interesting development he cited is the opening up of the digital payments space to non-banks in Singapore.

He believes the region can do more to promote greater interoperability in payments.

With e-commerce changing traditional definitions of national borders, Mr Heng said he "won't be surprised if someday we have a payments system throughout Asia and the world that will make payment a lot easier".

BUSINESS & FINANCE